2 December 2012

Tap water implicated in rise of food allergies

by Will Parker

Chemicals known as dichlorophenols, which are used in pesticides and to chlorinate water supplies, could be partially to blame for the rocketing number of food allergies affecting developed nations. Details of the intriguing link, discovered by researchers from the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), have just been published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

Affecting around 15 million Americans, food allergies increased by 18 percent between 1997 and 2007. The most common food allergens are milk, eggs, peanuts, wheat, tree nuts, soy, fish, and shellfish. Symptoms can range from a mild rash to a life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis, which can result in death if not treated quickly.

The new study reports that high levels of dichlorophenols, when found in the human body, are associated with food allergies. Specifically, the researchers found that out of more than 2,000 study subjects with dichlorophenols in their system, 18 percent had a food allergy while 50 percent had an environmental allergy.

"Our research shows that high levels of dichlorophenol-containing pesticides can possibly weaken food tolerance in some people, causing food allergy," said Elina Jerschow, lead author of the study. "This chemical is commonly found in pesticides used by farmers and consumer insect and weed control products, as well as tap water."

Both food allergies and environmental pollution are increasing in the United States, and Jerschow believes there may be a correlation. "The results of our study suggest these two trends might be linked, and that increased use of pesticides and other chemicals is associated with a higher prevalence of food allergies," she notes.

While opting for bottled water instead of tap water might seem to be a way to reduce the risk for developing an allergy, Jerschow says such a change may not lower exposure levels. "Other dichlorophenol sources, such as pesticide-treated fruits and vegetables, may play a greater role in causing food allergy," she warned.

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Source: American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology